Amazon Via Acre

I Know Why the
Vultures Laughed

We were all set, strapped onto metal seats, when the captain announced: everybody out, we got stuck. After two days flying, and two flawless landings, only the Guajará Mirim ‘runaway’ mud to stop our fearless DC-3 on its tracks. Everyone got dirty pushing the plane.
On the sideways, Native Brazilian Indians laughed out loud. It was not their first time having a blast with visitors, but I never went back for seconds. Once we took off, my mind was racing towards the Acre State, where I’d spend three months with my friend Tonho and his family.
We got to know a stretch of the majestic Amazon Rainforest, three times as big then as it is now. I flew for free as a military officer’s son, aboard a Douglas from the National Air Mail. Tonho left Rio three days later, on a commercial flight, but we got to Rio Branco together.
My place was next to piles of letters and parcels, as DC-3s were still being used on regular post routes within Brazil. No complaints; I didn’t know then, but it turned out to be one of the greatest trips of my life, a real miracle, as I hadn’t a cent to my name but was treated like a king.
On the way, I’ve spent a night in Porto Velho, whose downtown area on that rainy winter of 1973, was occupied by a huge gypsy camp. I had already realized that I was visiting another country, but I felt even more foreigner having a hard time understanding them. Pure prejudice made me weary of the Roma and not to ask for directions.

SYRUP & SPAGHETTI WESTERNS
Brazil’s vast distances and geographical north-south set up has a lot to do with the radical differences among its regions. Getting to the northwest, wild and racially mixed, coming from the south, urban and white European, is like a kick in the ass. You get on all your fours and it’s better to take your time getting up again.
Things seemed so odd, that the first thing the two teenagers got was cough medicine, which used to be unwittingly loaded with codeine. We were not into alcohol, and weed was rarer than snow, so pharma high was our tour guide exploring the sights and city blocks.
By far, the two weathers within a single day were our main source of amusement. The whole city life revolved around things happening before and after the rain. Dawn would break already in the 80s and while the thermometer would rise with the sun, sweat would drench us. Suddenly, all would change.
At just few degrees shy of the 100s, the sky would turn and a monsoon of biblical proportions would come down, all thunder and flood. It’d last less than an hour, though, and then, it’d be gone. Clouds would get quickly driven away and the sun would return to set, at the conclusion of yet another beautiful day.
Many a bottle of syrup we knocked down on our way to the movies – we may have watched the entire Sergio Leone collection, plus every one of the Zapata series – or the ‘boate,’ where a long-haired crooner singing Roberto Carlos‘ Amada Amante, was a nightly hit. What a life.

DEEP IN THE DYING JUNGLE
When we headed to Xapuri, to try Ayahuasca, we had no idea who Chico Mendes was. Deforestation was all around us, piles of downed trees by the side of the road. At one point, our bus stopped: ahead of us, a tractor-trailer was fully submerged in a small lagoon. Only the top of the cabin was out of the water.
We got to Brasiléia late at night, and rented a room in the back of a rest stop. There was no power and we were intrigued when the owner handed us a little fumigator, loaded with kerosene. It didn’t take long to know why: bugs were big as mice, and would fly around. We almost suffocated to death, trying to keep them away.
We woke up early, sweaty and nearly deaf. Heat was expected, but what was that loud noise, as if someone was scratching our zinc rooftop with metal nails. Zeeeep, zeeeep, zeeeep, one after another. (more)
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Read Also:
* Chico Mendes
* Amazing Zone
* Rainforest Rundown

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The Crying Games

Five Rings Above Misery (Telegraph/Getty)

A Bruised Rio Hosts Its
Low-Expectations Olympics

What a difference 10 years make. A decade ago, when Rio begun its cavalcade to host the Summer Olympics, Brazil was swimming in optimism. Unprecedented economic growth and a hard-earned period of political and social stability suddenly gave Brazilians much-sought global respect and the drive to dream that yes, they could.
In a country suffused with body culture, nothing would’ve marked that spirit as winning the bid for both the games and also the 2014 World Cup. From that point in history, only those two mega-sport events could represent a fitting coronation to what turned out to be an exceptional but miserably elusive moment.
The Olympics and Paralympics competitions that start officially Friday, however, are taking place in a radically different country. Long gone are the joy and effusiveness that fueled the celebrations for being chosen, in October 2009, by the International Olympic Committee, in Copenhagen.
It seems as if Brazil run out of the luck it never really had. Or that was too disappointingly brief. In one moment, it was a model of sustainable growth and the text book for social promotion policies, only to become, in the next, a continental-size pool of resentment and regret.
Not unlike voters for Brexit, Brazilians woke up suddenly and realized they may have thrown away the baby along the dirty bathwater. Two whole years of street protests against corruption, and all they got was a group of lousy politicians with police records who now occupies the government.
Competitors Will Jump in the Guanabara Bay, no Matter What. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)
WAIT, WE MAY STILL WIN THIS
Deeply divided, Brazil is already suffering another global-scale public humiliation, just as it did two years ago, when the then celebrated national soccer team got thrashed by Germany in the World Cup. A look at global headlines about these games has been source of even deeper embarrassment.
Every media outlet, including the country’s own, has reported a corollary of staggering woes brought to light by the magnifying glare of the games. From raw sewage in Guanabara Bay, site of most water competitions, to fears of disease-carrier mosquitoes, it all looks pretty bleak now.
We will return to foes that everyone is hoping against hope won’t tarnish the innate Olympics beauty, but first, as if almost duty-driven, the focus must be on a few good, or fine, or at least, interesting and even inspiration things about the games, even before they start.

SOME SHINING POINTS OF LIGHT
Ok, so we found three, but worth mentioning all the same. Like the 10-people Refugee Olympic Athletes team. Plucked from millions around the world, they will compete in several categories as independents. Since there should be many more, and there aren’t, they will be our own good-for-gold team.
Speaking of athletes, youth bodies, downtime, and a party city like Rio, it all may mean one thing: they’ll get laid. A lot. That’s why nine million ‘Rainforest friendly’ condoms will come in er handy. They’re sustainably-produced, made in Xapuri, the late Chico Mendes‘ hometown, in the Amazon state of Acre, and they’re free. Help yourself.
Finally, like many top world competitors, the third point of light is a cheat. Guilty as charged. But no less meaningful: it’s the (more)
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Read Also:
* Marvelous City
* Fly me to the Alemão
* Games People Play
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Rain (Forest) Check

The Amazon’s Skydiving
Spiders & Other Updates

Wonder what’s up with that other, more vital Amazon? Turns out, not nearly as grand as with its namesake commercial enterprise. In fact, weak regulations and public apathy have made its country host Brazil far from a safe harbor to the world’s largest rainforest.
Illegal logging continues rampant all over. Then there’s a just-established, and disturbing, link between its wildfires and Atlantic hurricanes; plus an expected ‘Godzilla’ El Niño season. But never mind climate change: worst of all are those pesky skydiving spiders falling all over the place.
Wonders are never in short supply, though. Take the research showing that the Amazon is way more diverse than originally thought, for instance. A recent study found a ‘hidden tapestry‘ of plant-based chemicals that determines growth and direction of its luscious species.
Or the Matsés, a tribe based in Brazil and Peru, that’s just compiled a 500-page encyclopedia summarizing its traditional medicine. Put together by five shamans, it’s likely the first treatise of its kind, with entries for therapies indicated to a massive variety of illnesses.
And then there are the efforts of forest activists who, despite mortal danger represented by armed gangs who roam the place on big landowners’ account, have been able to sustain an unsung but absolutely heroic battle to preserve what used to be called the ‘lungs of the world.’
To be fair, Brazil’s slowed down deforestation in the Amazon, albeit not nearly enough. Still its vastness, potential, and significance can’t be overstated. If we could only match its ability to wonder with a few miracles of our own, we’ll be in better shape now.

TIMBER TRACKING & NOT MUCH ELSE
In the past decade, Brazil has cut down greenhouse gas emissions more than any other country, which is commendable. But a recent visit by embattled President Dilma Rousseff to Washington failed to (more)
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Read Also:
* Amazing Zone
* Damned Project
* Rainforest at Risk

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Amazing Zone

Amazon’s Mind-Altering Tales:
Nazis, Condoms & the Internet

Just on the account of its gargantuan scope and staggering diversity of species, the Amazon Rainforest has inspired some of our most intriguing posts. But today’s three surprising stories may stun even the most seasoned admirer of that grand green extension.
Cue in the Ayahuasca, its ancient hallucinogenic medicine, and suddenly, tales are not about flora and fauna, but in a way, about basic human feelings, such as love, hate, and the pursuit of communication among distant peoples, otherwise known as being online.
Not that deforestation has slowed down by that much. Or that assassinations of local defenders of the forest has subsided, or being punished by law. And since we’re at it, the jungle’s prospects for the future have not become any less forbidding either.
On the other hand, we could, as we’ve done often, highlight some of the amazing lives and works, native communities and positive deeds, that perform daily their mostly ignored task of fighting to preserve if not the whole forest, at least its indomitable spirit, to our grandchildren and their own kids.
It’s just that we can’t resist bringing you something not usually associated with the environment and wild life and indigenous peoples, all worthy causes for discussion and multiple posts, intrinsically connected with the forest. Not today, anyway.
Instead, let’s contextualize these elements alluded to by the headline, as signs that perhaps one can take the civilization out of the forest, and it’d all be just fine. But try to take the forest out of civilization, and one may be left with the bitter sum of its worst vices.
The good thing about it, spoiler alert, is that out of three, two of said elements are somewhat positive, for one may represent an economic force of transformation, and the other, well, it simply failed, and that was an excellent thing. About the Internet, however, the jury’s still out.

MAKING RUBBERS FOR LOVE
Among the many advocates, some already savagely gunned down, and others still soldiering on, despite life threats and the oblivion of society at large, the shadow of Chico Mendes, murdered 25 years ago last month, still deservedly dominates the conversation about preservation of the forest.
Chico, as he was known, was a rubber tapper and union leader, whose life work was involved in creating sustainable means of survival for the people of the jungle. His assassination helped call attention to the plight of many who, like him, had the courage to fight for a shared, positive view of the future.
We mention rubber because Brazil’s experienced two powerful production booms, one in the late 1800s, and then during WWII. But with widespread commercialization of synthetic rubber, produced from petroleum, the boom went bust, and the Amazon never recovered economically.
Still, production of natural rubber from latex continues in a very small scale, thanks in part to Chico’s efforts. Now there’s a small factory Continue reading

Chico Mendes

The Rainforest Man & the
Hands That Dealt His Fate

At 6:45pm, 25 years ago this Sunday, Chico Mendes headed to his backyard to take a shower, in Xapuri, at the heart of Brazil’s Amazon state Acre. As he opened the door, he was shot point blank and met the fate that he’d already been telling everyone it’d be his.
He’d turned 44 a week before, and still envisioned a bright future for the mythical land where he was born, became a community leader, and ultimately fell as the most recognizable face of the forest and its native peoples’ struggle. He also knew who was coming to kill him.
“I always survive,” said a 78-year old man after being run over by a car in nearby Rio Branco just this past Dec. 5. No one would have paid much attention to him, though, if he wasn’t Darly Alves da Silva, found guilty of having ordered the hit on Chico, executed by his son. And that, yes, he’s been free for years now.
He could be referring to the fact that he made it to such an advanced age in a region where life expectancy is officially set at 72 years old. Or for surviving the accident itself. But he could as well be bragging about the botched criminal process that failed to keep him and son in jail for more than half of their 19 years sentence.

DISMANTLING A LEGACY
Chico is gone, although many say his cause continues to thrive. It’s hard to say: according to even the most conservatives stats, deforestation of the Amazon, although diminishing at a steady rate, is still hovering just below 15 thousand square kilometers in annual average, since the time he, unlike Darly, still walked among us.
As with most dead leaders, the growth of his global stature increases as more time passes since his demise, and much of the essence of his struggle tends to be glossed over in favor of a more benign, heroic but virtually impossible to attain, public image. That’s how the system works to undermine those who challenge it.
By sanitizing his accomplishments as a combative labor activist, who dedicated his life not so much to preserve the forest per se but to defend the people who live in it, and who he represented politically, the coverage about the 25 years of his death will be probably dominated by rousing but empty speeches by those who failed him.
For one of the saddest things about Chico’s tragedy was that in Dec. 9, 1988, he named his assassins in an interview to Jornal do Brasil, and even give the reasons Darly and his brother, who was never convicted, would invoke to have a contract on his life. Sad also because the interview wasn’t published until the ill deed was done.

STARING DOWN BULLDOZERS
Despite his serious accusations against them, for being responsible for some 30 killings of rural workers, no action was taken until a global outcry ignited by his death practically forced the Brazilian justice Continue reading

Damned Project

Judge Sets Back Push to Halt
Newest Power Plant in Brazil

Brazil’s energy needs have pit the administration of President Dilma Rousseff against environmentalists and indigenous populations. Smack in the middle of this struggle sits the estimated $13 billion Monte Belo project, which is to become the world’s third largest dam.
The dispute has had its share of victories for each side, and the latest ruling, by a Supreme Court judge, has gone the government’s way, as it allowed the controversial project to resume construction. That may be far from settling the matter, however, as even Hollywood celebrities have joined in the fray.
The vision of Brazil as a self-reliant energy powerhouse has been a national theme even before it restored its democratic rule in the 1980s. To take advantage of an abundance of river basins to meet growing consumption needs has been an integral component of every president’s agenda ever since.
But most of this vision implies the construction of mega dams in areas surrounding the Amazon, and the impact on the environment and indigenous communities could be damaging and irreversible. Instead, critics say, Brazil should build a series of smaller and less costly projects, that wouldn’t be so disruptive.
Behind the apparent clash of two different views about how Brazil should tackle its energy needs, there’s also the charge, commonly leveled against the Rousseff administration, of playing favors with Brazil’s cultural and geographic differences. While the wealthier south usually sees its energy demands met, vast extensions of the north remain underserved and lawless.
This time around, what particularly distinguishes the dispute over Belo Monte is the reenergized activism of native Brazilians, the Continue reading

Forest Stumps

An Activist’s Bulletproof Vest May
Save Neither Her Nor the Amazon

‘They’re going to kill me.’ Nilcilene Miguel de Lima, who heads a group of small producers deep in Brazil’s Amazonas State, sounds pragmatic when speaking about how she expects her life to end. Given Brazil’s sad record protecting the lives of activists in the region, her words have a sobering, prophetic ring to them. She also sounds undaunted, despite the already many attempts on her life.
Wearing a bullefproof vest 24/7 and having a personal security detail, Nilce’s determined to defend the people of her village, Lábrea. She’ll need lots of luck, better than many like Chico Mendes, the legendary rubber-tapper leader born in Acre State like her and assassinated in 1988, and environmentalists João Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and wife Maria do Espírito Santo, ambushed and killed a year ago next May.
Those who contracted their killers remain for the most part at large. Along with the world’s greatest flora and fauna diversity and its largest rainforest, the Amazon is littered with the bodies of many who stood up to illegal loggers, land grabbers, big landowners and drug traffickers. So the odds are not particularly stacked on her favor.
Neither they are on the side of preservationists and those who advocate for the estimated 20 million people who make the jungle their homes, Continue reading